x Young displaced students from a variety of faiths and backgrounds sing together in Arabic in Dohuk. u Saeed Elyas Seno stands with his wife, Ekhlas Jomaa, and their four children by their temporary home.
“The trainer has a good heart and is very tolerant. He’s really engaged in a kind of peace building in his shop.” CAPNI also sponsors classes on the Kurdish language — so the displaced can negotiate better in the markets of Dohuk — and provides training for farmers who fled their lands as ISIS approached. Some are ready to return, but their worries about renewed sectarian violence are joined with fears of what they might unwittingly harvest from the soil. “Our fields became a war zone between ISIS and the Peshmerga,” says Sabah Ibrahim, referring to the Kurdish fighters who helped drive out ISIS. “There are still landmines there. We need help in removing them. Otherwise, the land is ready and we’re eager to work it.”
ichel Constantin, the Beirut-based regional director for Catholic Near East Welfare Association — a partner of CAPNI — says Christians in Iraq face tough choices. “They are proud of their culture and roots, but at same time they feel they are doomed because of whom they are,” he says. “It’s hard to tell them they must stay in order to preserve a Christian presence in the Middle East. “They are desperate. They believe that leaving for the West has become too slow or even impossible, so the only choice left to them is to make their life in Iraq viable. That’s a big task, and it means we’re talking about not just short-term emergency assistance, but long-term ways of making quality education and medical services available.” CAPNI’s motto from the very beginning has been “to keep hope
Help Iraq’s displaced families remain strong www.iraqcnewa.org
alive,” and Abuna Emanuel says this remains the principal goal of the organization. “Every Sunday we continue preaching sermons of hope, telling people not to give up, and in our gatherings we try to explain that our identity as Eastern Christians cannot survive in the Diaspora. But in the end those are just words,” he says. “As long as people were in their caravans and their homes were under control of ISIS, they were okay. All they could do was wait. But now their homes in the Nineveh Plain have been liberated, and so they are asking me about their chances to go back. Have we been talking about real hope, or was it just an illusion?” After more than two years of waiting, Abuna Emanuel says people are willing to wait another year or so to see what happens. Once ISIS is completely gone, he says, the Gulf States will help Arab Sunni areas to rebuild. But he predicts it will be up to the international community to help the Nineveh Plain, as there will be little interest in Baghdad in funding work in non-Arab, non-Muslim communities. He says the church must be present, not just because it’s where Christians are, but because the Christians and Yazidis
and other minorities remain the most vulnerable. In a landscape where Sunni-Shiite tensions may continue to produce violence that affects other groups in turn, Abuna Emanuel says it’s more important than ever for Christians to remain. “For 2,000 years we have played a positive role toward the communities around us, building bridges when others want to build walls. In a time when hate speech is common, we can build peace,” he concludes. “As a native church with deep roots in the community and the land, with good relations with all our neighbors, we will continue to serve the whole community, being witnesses to the Lord.” Paul Jeffrey is a U.S. photojournalist who covers humanitarian crises around the world. His work has appeared in National Catholic Reporter, The Washington Post, America and The Guardian.
READ MORE OF PAUL JEFFREY'S IMPRESSIONS FROM HIS VISIT ON OUR BLOG, ONE-TO-ONE:
__ __ __ __ __
OFFICIAL PUBLICATION OF CNEWA
The official publication of Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA)